While the outcome isn’t necessarily a surprise, the decision nonetheless will be a shock to business’ systems. In a landmark 3-2 decision—Browning-Ferris Industries of California [pdf]—the NLRB has re-written its joint-employer standard.
The common-law definition of an employment relationship establishes the outer limits of a permissible joint-employer standard under the Act. But the Board’s current joint-employer standard is significantly narrower than the common law would permit. The result is that employees covered by the Act may be deprived of their statutory right to bargain effectively over wages, hours, and working conditions, solely because they work pursuant to an arrangement involving two or more employing firms, rather than one. Such an outcome seems clearly at odds with the policies of the Act….
The Board may find that two or more entities are joint employers of a single work force if they are both employers within the meaning of the common law, and if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment. In evaluating the allocation and exercise of control in the workplace, we will consider the various ways in which joint employers may “share” control over terms and conditions of employment or “codetermine” them….
The Board justifies this expansion of the joint-employer standard by stating that it is good for business and for the hiring of employees:
As the Board’s view of what constitutes joint employment under the Act has narrowed, the diversity of workplace arrangements in today’s economy has significantly expanded. The procurement of employees through staffing and subcontracting arrangements, or contingent employment, has increased steadily…
NLRB, you are not being honest with us. There is nothing good for businesses about this decision. If staffing agencies and franchisors are now equal under the National Labor Relations Act with their customers and franchisees, then we will see the end of staffing agencies and franchises as viable business models. Moreover, do not think for a second that this expansion of joint-employer liability will stop at the NLRB. The Department of Labor recently announced that it is exploring a similar expansion of liability for OSHA violations. And the EEOC is similarly exploring the issue for discrimination liability. I think that Browning-Ferris is a jumping-off point, not an end-point, on this key issue. Stay tuned.